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Seven Days in May Reviews

The surprising revelations of the Iran-Contra scandal have given new meaning to this gripping, well-acted political thriller based on Charles Waldo Bailey II's and Fletcher Knebel's 1962 best-seller. SEVEN DAYS IN MAY begins as the President of the United States, Jordan Lyman (Fredric March), signs a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets, outraging the military establishment, particularly Gen. James M. Scott (Burt Lancaster), head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who conspires with other Joint Chiefs to stage a coup d'etat. His aide, Marine Col. "Jiggs" Casey (Kirk Douglas), stumbles onto evidence of the plot, including a secret Air Force base, and approaches the president. With only days left before the coup is to take place, Lyman swings into action, but trusted friends Sen. Raymond Clark (Edmond O'Brien) and Paul Girard (Martin Balsam), whom the president has sent to secure the proof needed to expose Scott and his cohorts, are captured and killed in a plane crash, respectively. Armed with incriminating letters from Scott's former mistress (Ava Gardner), Lyman confronts the general, and though the president cannot bring himself to use blackmail he eventually triumphs over Scott. Filmed in stark black and white, unraveling its complicated plot at a rapid clip, this exciting film from John Frankenheimer, the director of the similarly taut THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, packs a grim warning about the military's potential abuse of power. Douglas, who, like Lancaster and March, contributes an outstanding performance, initiated the project after reading galleys of the novel. Given the enthusiastic cooperation of the Kennedy administration (though not of the Pentagon, whom the filmmakers understandably never approached), SEVEN DAYS IN MAY smacks of realism, from its skillfully realized sets to its wholly believable supporting performances by O'Brien, Balsam, and John Houseman. Sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.